BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) — Alabama’s largest newspaper group stood by its reporting Wednesday despite Senate candidate Roy Moore’s statement that he has “taken steps to begin a civil action for defamation” in response to numerous women’s allegations that he’d tried to date them or initiate sexual encounters when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers.
Two more women came forward Wednesday with similar allegations. Moore responded by calling all the allegations a political hit job.
Posting a 500-word statement on Twitter Wednesday evening, the former Alabama Supreme Court judge wrote: “When allegations of events occurring 40 years ago – and never before mentioned during a 40-year career of public service — are brought out and taken seriously only 30 days before a critical election, we may be in trouble as a country.”
The statement — posted in response to an ultimatum from Fox News host Sean Hannity – was one of three from the Moore campaign Wednesday that threatened legal action.
Also Wednesday, Moore attorney Trenton Garmon sent a demand letter to the Alabama Media Group, Alabama’s largest newspaper consortium. Garmon said that Moore, his wife and The Foundation for Moral Law, the Moores’ nonprofit, had retained him and he was preparing a defamation lawsuit.
Garmon gave the Alabama Media Group five days to issue a public retraction, claiming that it had engaged in “careless and/or malicious reporting” for reporting that Moore had been “‘banned’ from the Gadsden Mall,” for example.
Several people who worked at the mall years ago have told reporters that Moore had been banned from the mall, or identified as someone to watch, for allegations of annoying teenage girls.
The Alabama Media Group manages The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, the Mobile Press-Register and AL.com, among others. Its vice president of content, Michelle Holmes responded, that the company stands by its reports.
Because Moore seeks a U.S. Senate seat, “He merits and can expect intense scrutiny by the electorate and the media on its behalf, including by Alabama Media Group, the state’s largest media outlet,” Holmes said.
Garmon wrote to the Alabama Media Group that “your client’s organization is attempting pre-election to conspire and orchestrate a ‘trial by media’ and is playing to a ‘mob mentality.’ We demand this circus cease and desist immediately.”
Regardless of how the Alabama Media Group responds, it’s unlikely that the media “circus” will cease and desist as one sex scandal after another roll through Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Washington.
One week ago The Washington Post published a story in which four women recalled Moore trying to date them while they were in their teens. One, Leigh Corfman, said Moore tried to get her to touch his crotch when they were both in their underwear, the Post reported.
On Monday, Beverly Young Nelson alleged that Moore drove her home when she was 16 in the late 1970s and tried to push her head into his lap.
Of the two additional women who spoke up Wednesday, one told the Alabama Media Group that Moore had groped her buttocks in 1991, when she was a practicing attorney and 28 years old. “He didn’t pinch it, he grabbed it,” she said. The other woman told the Media Group that Moore had tried to date her when she was 17 and he was in his 30s. She said she asked him, “‘Do you know how old I am?’ and he said, ‘Yeah. I go out with girls your age all the time.’”
Moore was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monuments he had had planted at the Alabama Judicial Building. Ten years later, in 2013, after being re-elected to the state supreme court, he was removed again, for directing county clerks of court to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legitimizing same-sex marriage.
Blowing off the orders of federal judges made Moore a hero to many in Alabama, including Evangelical Christians and right-wing groups. In the September primary this year, Moore upset incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed after Sen. Jeff Sessions quit the post to become U.S. attorney general. Moore will face Democratic candidate Doug Jones in a special election on Dec. 12.
Jones, a former U.S. attorney for Northern Alabama, rose to prominence in the early 2000s by securing the convictions of three of four Klan members who’d carried out the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, killing four black children and injuring 22 other people. The fourth Klansman died before he was brought to trial.
The special election brings Alabamans’ choices into stark relief: a Democratic prosecutor of Klansmen against a far-right Republican who faces troubling allegations. And with Republicans controlling the U.S. Senate by only two seats, the election has national importance.
Several top Republicans, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have called for Moore to drop out of the race.
President Trump has hedged, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believes Moore’s accusers, and first daughter Ivanka Trump told The Associated Press this week: “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I’ve yet to see a valid explanation and I have no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts.”
On Wednesday evening, Moore’s attorney Phillip Jauregui challenged Beverly Young Nelson’s allegations against Moore. Nelson has shown reporters and given to her attorney, Gloria Allred, her high school yearbook, with good-luck wishes she says were handwritten and signed by Moore.
Jauregui on Wednesday called the yearbook message a forgery, part of a plot against his client. “Release the yearbook,” he said.
Jauregui also said Nelson claimed never to have met Moore again after that night car ride. But “there was contact,” he said.
In 1999, Jauregui said, Nelson filed for divorce and Moore, then a circuit court judge in Etowah County, Alabama, heard the case and signed the order of dismissal.
Former Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors said that despite the allegations, if the vote were held tomorrow, Moore would win.
Rural and evangelical voters are angry and energized “right now more than ever,” Connors said. He added that Southern voters resent lectures from Washington, and are skeptical of the Northern media, including Trump’s bêtes noires CNN and The Washington Post.
Moore still leads Jones in the polls, but his double-digit lead has dropped to 3 to 5 percentage points since the sex allegations emerged.
Connors, like many pundits, said the key to the election may hinge on one thing: “What will non-church going, or semi-church going, Republicans in suburban areas do?”